Five down and five to go! We’ve reached the halfway point of the Top 10 Greatest Horror Movies… Ever! list, and now it’s time to start busting out the real heavy hitters.
Night of the Living Dead is nothing short of iconic, single-handedly not only launching a legendary film series, but it’s the film that gave birth to one of our favorite movie beasties: the zombie.
#5-Night of the Living Dead
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
And they came… big time.
Nearly 50 years after that classic line was uttered and Bill Hinzman shuffled into our lives as Zombie #1, the living dead are not only still coming to get us, but they’ve gotten exponentially badder as time has gone on. Zombies are the stars of loads of movies, TV series, video games, comic books, etc. Zombies are chic, and it can all be traced back to one Pennsylvania farmhouse.
With Night of the Living Dead, we’re not talking about a movie that spawned a series of sequels which had a nice run for a few years; we’re talking about a movie that spawned an entire sub-genre of horror. An entirely new monster. Although the filmmakers never used the term “zombie” in Night of the Living Dead (instead referring to the reanimated corpses as “ghouls”) it was indeed the origin of the zombie film. Projects which draw inspiration from Night of the Living Dead can be summed up by simply saying this: Anything that features, mentions or in any way alludes to a zombie can thank George A. Romero and his vision of the walking dead (that includes, of course, “The Walking Dead,” which continues to be one of the most beloved shows currently on television).
Initially, the term ‘”zombie” was used to describe one under the mindless control of an evil magician or voodoo witch doctor. And although that definition is perfectly acceptable, when you mention “zombie” in modern society, we all think of reanimated corpses dragging themselves after a meal of human flesh, preferably brains. And that idea comes right from Romero (who got his start in the entertainment industry on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” what?). He was influenced by Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend (which featured vampire-like creatures hunting the last man on Earth). Romero thought a good post-apocalypse film should actually happen pre-post-apocalypse and show the point where things went from “really bad” to “oh shit, we’re not coming back from this one.”
And in Night of the Living Dead, things certainly did go south fast for Barbra and her comedian brother. When you think, “Hmmm… How bad could a visit to my father’s grave just before dark in a secluded rural cemetery go?” this is the answer. It can’t possibly go any worse than it did in Night of the Living Dead. And we, the zombie-loving viewing audience, are the happy recipients of that nightmarish tale.
It must be noted that the visual quality of the film is quite rough and the editing is something of a hatchet job. You could write this off to the fact that the film is turning 45 years old, but if you look at Psycho, which was released eight years earlier, you see a film with a much higher production value. However, the low quality of the visuals actually seems to add something to Night of the Living Dead. A gritty, real-life quality is injected into the movie. Psycho was helmed by an established, masterful director at the height of his career. NOTLD was created by a young, rogue director looking to make a name for himself, and he did that with a story of claustrophobia, of man versus man, of hideous, bloodthirsty beasts encircling these embattled men preparing to eat them.
Night of the Living Dead is to the zombie sub-genre of horror what Black Sabbath is to the rock sub-genre of metal. Everything, everything, everything traces back to it, and it’s powerful enough to stand on its own today. The tension and trapped feel of the characters translates brilliantly to the viewers, and Romero simply kept raising the bar as the film went on, reaching high with Kyra Schon’s classic flesh-eating scene and culminating with a horrendously misfired bullet at the close of the film. We cannot thank George A. Romero enough for all the entertainment he has given us (and inspired in others) throughout the decades. This is filmmaking history.
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